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What is Monk Fruit?


Article by Dr. Layla Sade

Photography by Dr. Layla Sade

Monk fruit has become a popular sweetener in recent years but many still haven’t heard of it or are unfamiliar with what its benefits actually are. it’s a Chinese fruit known as *luo han guo*.

What is Monk Fruit? The Artificial Sweetener Explained

Monk fruit is gourd and its extract is primarily used as an artificial sweetener in beverages like tea and coffee.

It looks a little like a green lemon, but it’s hiding a sweet secret: its pulp is 150-250 times sweeter than sugar. When it’s turned into a liquid or powdered sweetener, you get a big burst of sweetness for close to zero calories. Monk fruit has been used as a sweetener and herbal medicine for centuries in Asian countries, and now it’s catching on in the West.

Monk Fruit Nutrition Facts: Calories, Carbs

Monk fruit sweeteners come in several forms: liquid extract, powder and granules (like cane sugar).

Monk fruit, technically speaking, contains a very small amount of calories and carbohydrates, just like other fruits and vegetables. However, it’s not commonly consumed fresh, and when dried its sugars break down.

When eaten fresh, monk fruit has about 25 percent to 38 percent carbohydrates, as well as some vitamin C. After drying, the trace amounts of fructose, glucose and other components are considered insignificant, so it’s typically counted as a zero-calorie food.

What Does Monk Fruit Taste Like, and Why is it so Sweet?

Many users of monk fruit sweeteners say the taste is pleasant and that there’s little to no bitter aftertaste, unlike some other sugar substitutes. It’s not sweet due to natural sugars like most fruits. It contains powerful antioxidants called mogrosides, which are metabolized differently by the body than natural sugars.

That’s why, despite their very sweet taste, these fruits virtually contain no calories and have no effect on blood sugar. Mogrosides provide varying levels of sweetness — the type known as mogrosides-V being the highest and also the one associated with the most health benefits. Some products produced with monk fruit may be intensely sweet but can be cut down and used in moderation.

Monk Fruit Benefits: Is it Good for You?

1. Contains Antioxidants that Fight Free Radicals

Monk fruit’s mogrosides, the compounds that give it its intense sweetness, are also powerful antioxidants. Studies have shown that mogrosides significantly inhibited reactive oxygen species and DNA oxidative damage. The fact that the same monk fruit ingredients that provide antioxidants also provide a no-calorie sweetener makes it nothing less than a superfood.

2. Monk Fruit May Help Lower Risk of Obesity and Diabetes

It’s estimated Americans consume 130 pounds of sugar per year, as opposed to our ancestors in the early 1800s who averaged about 10 pounds. This surge in sugar intake has ballooned obesity rates, as well as cases of diabetes. Monk fruit may improve insulin response and does not affect blood sugar levels the way natural sugars do, according to research studies. This means it can provide the sweet flavor we strongly crave without the damaging side effects.

Research indicates that using monk fruit sweetener may help those already suffering from obesity and diabetes from furthering their condition. Another benefit compared to other sweeteners is that the sweetener is extracted from non-GMO fruit, unlike table sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

3. Has Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Ancient Chinese usage of this fruit included drinking tea made from the boiled fruit to cool the body from ailments, including fever and heat stroke. It was also used to soothe a sore throat.

4. May Help Fight Development of Cancer

There’s evidence suggesting that the seeds and extract taken from this fruit have anti-carcinogenic effects. Monk fruit extract has displayed an ability to inhibit skin and breast tumor growth and to provide proteins that have anticancer abilities.

5. May Help Combat Infections

When treating bacterial infections, antibiotics are widely overused. Natural antimicrobial agents are much better options to fight off infections to slow the ongoing surge of antibiotic resistance. Monk fruit has shown the ability to inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, specifically oral bacteria that cause tooth decay and periodontal disease. These studies also show the fruit’s ability to fight some forms of candida symptoms and overgrowth, like oral thrush, which when left untreated can affect many other body systems.

6. Fights Fatigue

In a study on mice, monk fruit extracts were successful in decreasing fatigue in exercising mice. The study was able to reproduce the results and prove that mice given the extract had extended exercise times. This study provides evidence as to why monk fruit has long been referred to as the “longevity fruit.”

7. Monk Fruit Sugar: Appropriate for Diabetic and Low-Glycemic Diets

This fruit was used as an anti-diabetic by the Chinese for centuries. Aside from being a proven anti-hyperglycemic (which helps bring down the blood glucose levels in the body), animal studies have also shown targeted antioxidant abilities toward pancreatic cells, allowing better insulin secretion in the body.

The anti-diabetic abilities of the monk fruit are associated with its high levels of mogrosides. Better insulin secretion is a major part of improving diabetic patients’ health, and monk fruit has even shown in animal studies to potentially reduce kidney damage and other diabetes-related issues.

8. Works as a Natural Antihistamine

Monk fruit extract, when used repeatedly, has shown an ability to fight allergic reactions as well.

Monk Fruit Side Effects: Some of the Downsides and Risks

What are the side effects of monk fruit? Monk fruit side effects may be related to the gut flora within the compounds (mogrosides) called steviol. You've probably heard of this due to the brand Stevia, an artificial sweetener. There's also food allergies to take into account.

The primary monk side effects may include:

  • Fast or slow heart rate (allergy)
  • Concentrated sneezing (allergy)
  • Lightheadedness (allergy)
  • Swelling in tongue or joints (allergy)
  • Stomach aching/pain (digestion)
  • Diarrhea (digestion)
  • Vomiting (digestion)

In general, monk fruit is generally considered to be very safe, since there have been very few reported side effects or negative reactions.

It appears to be safe for adults, children and pregnant/nursing women to consume, based on available research and the fact that it’s been consumed for centuries in Asia. Unlike some other sweeteners, it’s unlikely to cause diarrhea or bloating when consumed in moderate amounts.

Monk Fruit Compared to Traditional Sugar

One of the most common comparisons that Monk Fruit gets is to traditional sugar. Consuming too much added sugar can ruin your teeth, cause kidney stones, increase your risk of heart disease, harm your liver, and make you gain weight.

Monk fruit sweetener has not been proven to do any of these things. Monk fruit is a calorie-free sweetener with a glycemic index (GI) of zero. That means it won’t cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar compared to high GI foods, like white bread and soda. (A tablespoon of regular sugar has a GI score of 68.)

However, it is important to remember to portion Monk fruit differently from normal sugar. Monk Fruit is about 150-250 times sweeter than regular sugar which can make it difficult to properly portion for recipes. Once you have the portioning down it is possible though. For example, in coffee or tea, you would only need a very small amount of monk fruit to adequately sweeten it.

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